Aid groups grapple with loss of staff in Nairobi attack

The skyline of Nairobi. Photo by: Nbi101 / CC BY-SA

ABIDJAN — Aid groups say they remain committed to their work after Tuesday’s attack on an upscale hotel and office complex in Nairobi, Kenya, shook Africa’s development and tech communities, with several of the companies housed there losing colleagues.

At least 14 died in the attack claimed by Somali terrorist group al-Shabab, with a number of aid and development workers among them. Those named so far include the Africa programs director of the U.K.-based Gatsby Charitable Foundation, Luke Potter, and the CEO of the U.S.-based strategy and investment firm I-DEV International, Jason Spindler.

“Any incident is a wake-up call that sharpens all your tools, mechanisms, and processes.”

— Brigid Janssen, spokesperson, ASI

Development consultancy Adam Smith International called the loss of its two colleagues — Abdalla Dahir and Feisal Ahmed, who were leading a project designed to combat terrorism and bring peace to Somalia — “poignant and painful.” The pair were killed while sitting on the terrace of a restaurant near its offices in the affluent Westlands neighborhood of the Kenyan capital. The young men worked on the Somalia Stability Fund, a multidonor project managed by ASI that seeks to create peace and stability through more than 100 local community initiatives. Fifty other ASI staff members were safely evacuated.

“Any incident is a wake-up call that sharpens all your tools, mechanisms, and processes,” ASI spokesperson Brigid Janssen said. “We have several systems in place — quite extensive security operations, security personnel, and practice.”

As recently as last summer, a company-wide crisis scenario planning and refresher course ensured that all staff were aware of what to expect during each step of a crisis, including how the company would react, communications processes, and how to maintain personal safety.

“Those elements were certainly in place ahead of time to the best of our ability,” she noted. “Office security, reminders about good practice ... communications such as posters around the office are all part [of] making sure that in everyday life, staff and associates are prepared for the worst.”

She said the company has kept an “acute eye” on security and duty of care in Nairobi since the 2013 Westgate Mall attack, where an ASI staff member was among the 67 people who died. Once again, the Riverside attack seems targeted at upper-middle class Kenyans and foreigners, and comes days after a ruling that three alleged accomplices in the mall shooting should stand trial.

According to its website, the 14 Riverside complex houses local offices of international companies including Colgate-Palmolive and Dow Chemical. Many Kenyan tech startups, such as Cellulant mobile payment solutions and Metta, a business club for startups, also have offices there.

Many are still waiting to hear from friends and relatives. Cellulant has given no public statement about the safety of its staff but tweeted: “Kindly await an official statement from us regarding this unfortunate incident.”

While affected families and communities pay homage to loved ones and find a way to move forward, Janssen said ASI has focused its immediate efforts on offering counseling to those touched by the attacks.

Senior management will also need to consider next steps in terms of re-opening the office or finding a new location. Janssen remained clear, however, that ASI would not leave Kenya. “We are invested and committed to what we are doing there and in the surrounding counties, so that’s not even a question for a second,” she said.

About the author

  • Christin roby

    Christin Roby

    Christin Roby is the West Africa Correspondent for Devex. Based in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, she covers global development trends, health, technology, and policy. Before relocating to West Africa, Christin spent several years working in local newsrooms and earned her Master of Science in videography and global affairs reporting from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Her informed insight into the region stems from her diverse coverage of more than a dozen African nations.